GREENCASTLE, Pa. — The silence of Jeanette Monteith's Greencastle-Antrim Primary School classroom was suddenly interrupted Thursday by a phone ringing.
"Is that Mr. Malone?" asked one of the students awaiting the arrival of their Trucker Buddy pen pal, James Malone.
A number of false alarms followed until Malone entered, met the group of 20 students from kindergarten through second grade and received a round of applause befitting a visiting dignitary.
"Hello, my name is Alexis. I'm 7 years old and I like to play with my horse," a student said in her introduction to Malone.
The nonprofit Trucker Buddy International educates and mentors school children through pen-pal relationships between professional truck drivers and students in kindergarten through eighth grade, according to the organization's website.
"A lot of the kids may not get out of the state they live in. This gives them a chance to travel the country with the drivers," Malone said.
More than 3,000 drivers are paired with teachers internationally. The program helps students with reading, writing, math, social studies and history. It also gives them an idea of what a driver goes through on a daily basis, he said.
"I've always had an interest in kids. As a father with two daughters, I love the smiles on kids' faces. If someone can say, 'Who is James Malone?' James Malone is a big kid at heart," he said.
For Jesse Seffer, Malone is the next best thing to a celebrity.
"He's my hero. He's so awesome, because he's pretty cool," the 8-year-old said.
When he found out his trucker pen pal hauled ice cream, Seffer liked Malone even more.
"I really want to go in the truck so bad," Jesse said before getting his chance to hop in the cab and look into the empty trailer that had been loaded with 4,000 cases of ice cream.
Malone hauled a load of ice cream from Le Mars, Iowa, to Bedford, Pa., before continuing to Greencastle.
Monteith said the students' relationship with Malone helps them with writing and gets them excited about other subjects.
"These kids are learning what a greeting is, what the body of a letter is and the closing of a letter is. When they know they're writing to Mr. Malone, they get excited and really want to do their best," Monteith said.
She said Malone asks them questions about holidays, pets, favorite activities and interests.
Then, the children respond to Malone in a hand-written letter sent by "snail mail."
"Writing to him is fun. I ask him if he has dogs," said Quentin Witter, 8.
Malone drives for Schuster Co. of Le Mars, Iowa, and travels to 48 states hauling mostly chilled meat and ice cream. He serves on the board of directors for Trucker Buddy.